No Story Too Small has issued a New Year’s Challenge: “Have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.”
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Everyone in the family knows of “our” famous artist Walter Franklin Lansil, “Uncle Waddie”, and most are aware of his accomplished brother Wilbur Henry Lansil, “Bibber”. Many of us have one or more of their paintings. We speak of “our” bachelor Lansils at cocktail parties, when other family historians bring up the DAR/SAR, the Mayflower Society or their Indian Princess…. “We have a famous Venetian artist!, His art sells like hotcakes!… Oh….and he does descend from Mayflower passenger Stephen Hopkins and William Grout who fought in the Revolutionary War!”
But what about their brother Edwin?, our direct descendant? Several of his descendants were named for him….but to be honest, I don’t think many of us know much about him (at least I didn’t). Edwin was my second g-grandfather (my paternal grandmother’s, maternal grandfather).
Edwin resided with his parents and four brothers Enoch, Walter, Asa & Wilbur (and most years his sister Frances) for his entire lifetime. For that reason I include tidbits of all of these family members in his biography.
Edwin Lansil, middle name unknown (possibly Paine), was the second known child born to Asa Paine Lansil and Betsey Turner Grout on 5 June 1839 in Bangor, Maine. On 9 July 1843, when Edwin was four and his sister Frances Ellen two, they were baptized at the Hammond Street Church in Bangor.
Older brother Enoch Howard, born 1 Dec 1835/6 (recorded both years in Bangor records) and baptized 25 Aug 1844 at the same church, died in youth (according to Sunday School admittance records on 22 Feb 1843; unknown if he was baptized after death or if one of the dates is inaccurate).
Enoch’s baptism, Hammond Street Church Records
Baptism records were not found for Walter, Asa or Wilbur. Hammond Street Congregational Church was established in 1833, during an economic boom caused by the lumbering and shipping industries. A congregation of 71 members agreed to establish a brick structure west of the Kenduskeag Stream. Because building costs were running high, the building design was scaled back. In 1853/4 money was raised to renovate the exterior, lengthen and heighten the walls, and add the single spire.
From 1843 to 1848, Edwin’s family was living on 101 Hammond, a brick tenement in the Bangor neighborhood of Barkerville. Asa’s brother Charles (wife Louisa and baby) lived at the same address.
By age eight, Edwin was attending the Hammond Street Sabbath School.
In 1850, he was listed as Edward P. Lansil (father Asa P. on Main Street) indicating that perhaps Edwin’s middle name was Paine. No other records exist that mention a middle initial or name.
In 1850, an eleven year old Edwin was living in Bangor with his parents and siblings Francis E. (“Fannie”), Walter Franklin (“Waddie”) and Asa Brainard. Edwin’s father was a Cooper, with real estate valued at $1,000. In 1851 the family moved to Main St. (at the corner of Lincoln); Asa worked on 61 Broad St., perhaps with brothers James & Ephraim.
On 6 June 1858, the day after his 19th birthday, Edwin became the 630th member of the Hammond Street Church.
That same year, he seemed to assist as a Sabbath School teacher (as did his father), then he returned to bible class.
By 1859, a 20 year old Edwin had become a cooper and part of his dad’s business; Asa’s assets had risen to $3,500. Betsey gave birth to another son in 1855, Wilbur Henry (known as “Bibber”). Asa’s sister, Mary (Lansil) Dudley died in 1856; and one of her children, Sarah Elizabeth Dudley, joined the family. Listed in the census as a domestic servant, was Melissa Paul, age 16 (perhaps a boarder or relative as her family lived next door to Asa’s brother Thomas Lansil in 1850).
The family lived on the west side of the Kenduskeag Stream (Main and Hammond Streets).
In 1860 Edwin was Asa’s only employee and made about $30 monthly. The father and son team produced barrels, buckets, water casks and cisterns. Asa had $200 invested in the business, and annually produced products valued at $1,000. In 1857, they sold to the town a cistern for $25, and horse buckets for $9. In 1861, for $23, they sold a cistern for the city stable . They do not appear in the Maine IRS tax lists from1862-6 (only Asa’s brothers Charles V. & George made the list), indicating that perhaps neither Edwin or Asa profited much in these years.
In 1861, Edwin was part of the town’s (volunteer) fire unit, Eagle Company No.3 (no known photo of Hose 3 exists, below are other Bangor stations in that era).
It was the time of the Civil War, several of Edwin’s relatives fought. An unknown author writes: “The period of our life in Bangor was marked by the Civil War which although its active scenes were far away, sent its vibrations of anxiety & grief or of joy and triumph to our homes and our assemblies. How did we rejoice when Donelson fell! and when Gettysburg gave the decisive blow to rebellion! How did we mourn when – almost in the moment of victory – our great & good President was assassinated!”
By 1870, Edwin had most likely relocated to Boston. He was not found in the 1870 census but in 1871 he is listed in the Bangor City Directory as living in East Boston.
The rest of the family was still living on 101 Hammond Street, Bangor in 1870. Asa’s net worth had risen to $5,500. Walter (then a cistern maker – was Asa Paine’s only employee, in a business now netting $1,200 annually) and Asa Brainard (clerk in store) had joined the now paid members of the fire department.
During this period, the lumber business was booming in Bangor.
In 1863 Edwin’s sister Fannie married a wealthy lumberman, Carleton Sylvanus Bragg, Jr., (in 1870 the 31 year old’s net worth was $35,000. Bragg’s dad Carleton, Sr., who died in Boston in 1876, also a lumber dealer was worth $50,000 that same year). In 1870/1 Edwin, his brother-in-law Bragg (who also moved to Boston with his young family) and Henry Jones started a lumber business later described as a Steam Sawmill under the name “Jones, Bragg & Lansil” in East Boston. They purchased property for $2,146.37; four parcels totaling 5,625 feet on Maverick and Lamson (borrowing at 7%). According to advertisements in the local paper they dealt oak and yellow pine, car and ship stock, building material and all kinds spruce and pine lumber, shingles, laths, clapboards and pickets.
Their older partner Henry Jones was born 1811 in Maine. The small piece of Border Street waterfront between the north boundary of the Boston East site and Central Square was originally the site of Jones Wharf, apparently built about 1850 by Henry Jones, a lumber merchant in business with E. A. Abbott. He is found living in East Boston from about 1850 until his death in 1879. In 1850 as a timber dealer, 1860 a wealthy lumber dealer (his assets valued at $31,600, image below) and in 1870 as a dealer in ship timber. He seemed quite involved in town affairs.
Carlton’s obituary in the Bangor Daily Whig, 5 November 1880, page-3 summarizes their move:
Massachusetts Land Deeds – 7 Dec 1871, book 1082, pg 206-8 land purchase “Jones, Bragg & Lansil”
By January 1872 they had relocated their offices to 18 State Street and had added to their product line – Dimension Timber for Bridges and Wharves, Car and Ship Building.
The Lansil business was most likely established in East Boston to provide lumber to the booming ship building industry.
But, after the Civil War the ship building business collapsed. Buyers favored steamers over wooden ships. World famous East Boston ship builder, Donald McKay (who lived on White Street near the Braggs) launched his last clipper in 1869 and closed his East Boston shipyards in 1875.
No records are found telling us what became of the Lansil/Bragg business and fortunes (the business is only listed in the 1871/2 directories and local newspaper advertisements are found through March 1872), but it is evident that a lumber business may not have been successful in this era.
In the 1870’s, the wealthy Yankee families, original settlers, when East Boston was a prosperous trading center and alluring vacation resort left their homes for more fashionable addresses. Their “posh” homes were sold to developers who subdivided. Three family homes were erected in former lumber yards and other empty lots.
Much of the East Boston skilled population moved off the island to the recently opened “streetcar suburbs”. They were replaced by “cheaper” immigrants, mostly Irish, who flooded the community. The Lansil’s remained in East Boston longer than most.
Meanwhile, in 1871, the city assessed a $700 tax on the building that Asa rented, deeming the land more valuable due to street widening. Perhaps this was a contributing factor in his decision to relocate.
Asa P. soon put the family horse, sleigh & robes and house on the market in preparation of the family’s move to Boston.
Asa P., Betsey, Walter, Asa B. and Wilbur all joined Edwin, Carleton and Frances in East Boston. They initially boarded at 119 Webster, East Boston (Fannie Lansil Bragg is on 39 White, East Boston). Soon Asa P. and Edwin purchased a home together for $5,600 on Trenton, at the corner of Putnam (lot 169, sec 3).
Massachusetts Land Deeds – book 1137, pg 179-180, 9 Dec 1872
Edwin, Asa B. and the Braggs initially lived together. When the rest of the family arrived in 1872, the Braggs relocated to White St., but by 1876 they rejoined the family on Trenton. Edwin is listed in city directories without an occupation from 1872-76.
The move to Boston sent Walter on his way to fame! A small sampling of some of the newspaper accounts of his activities:
159 Trenton Street as it looks in 2013
A full listing of Asa’s clan, including daughter Fannie Bragg’s family in the 1880 census:
Edwin, a lumber surveyor, had been unemployed for 4 months in the preceding year. Sadly, later in 1880, Fannie’s husband Carleton passed away suddenly on 1 Nov 1880 after being sick for just two days. The cause was apoplexy (sudden loss of consciousness, sensation, and voluntary motion).
The following year, on 3 March 1881, Edwin’s mother, Betsey Turner (Grout) Lansil, died of dropsey caused by scirrhus of the liver. At the time of her death she was still living at 159 Trenton Street and was 67 years and 9 months. They buried Betsey at Mount Hope Cemetery, State Street, Bangor, ME Lot 407CG.
No probate records were found for her in Suffolk County. She does not have a gravestone.
In 1882 the entire family was still living together but, had relocated to Dorchester (with widowed sister Fannie Bragg and her children), most likely due to changing demographics (incoming immigrants) in East Boston. Dorchester was still a primarily rural town and had a population of 12,000 when it was annexed to Boston in 1870. Railroad and streetcar lines brought rapid growth, increasing the population to 150,000 by 1920.
At the end of the 19th century, Dorchester was described as follows: Its close proximity to the ocean, with refreshing breezes throughout the summer months, superb views from its elevated points of Boston Bay, and harbor of unrivalled beauty, combining the freedom and delights of the country with the advantages and privileges of the city, pure invigorating air, good drainage, –all these features are steadily drawing the most desirable class of home builders. Most of its territory is occupied by handsome and attractive private residences, with extensive grounds, beautiful lawns, and shade trees around them.
The 1882 through 1886 city directories indicate that perhaps Asa P. owned the home on Milton Avenue. No entry was found in Suffolk County land indexes to support this – all of his sons and presumably the Braggs continued to reside in the same household. Edwin seemed to be unemployed 1881-3 and then worked as a lumber surveyor 1884-6 :
Milton Ave corner Fuller 2013 – Very near to 101 Maxwell Street; the homestead purchased by brother Walter in 1886.
Walter’s popularity continued to grow. Coleman, Lewis & Co., a small wares company where Wilbur was a shipper for years, dissolved in late 1882. Wilbur decided on a career change and joined his brother as an artist. In August 1884, the brothers set off for Europe; family lore says Edwin funded their jaunts across the sea to study and paint. Unlikely, given Edwin’s lack of employment – more likely funding was from Walter auctioning off his artwork to prominent citizens.
Partial letter written by Natalie (Haines) Thomson to her sister Marion:
In February 1886, Edwin and Asa P. (both unmarried) sell their interest in the Trenton/Putnam Street East Boston home to Walter for consideration of $1. Walter is to assume payment of the mortgage to Betty McIntosh, $3,500 plus interest (Walter resold 4 years later to Albert E. Low a local Grocer who grew up in East Boston, a newlywed and fellow Mason, for consideration of $1 and assumption of the mortgage – still $3,500, plus interest).
In March 1886, sister Fannie died of consumption (likely Tuberculosis). No probate record was found. It seems that a once wealthy Bragg family was without cash or assets. Fannie’s youngest child Florence May Bragg was 17 and now an orphan – the Lansil brothers continued to provide for her (in 1900 she is listed in the census living with the Lansil’s but without an occupation).
On September 11, 1886 Walter purchased the home at 101 Maxwell Street (lots 8 & 10, sect. 3 – 9,880 square feet of land or about 2 ¼ acres) for $3,700, taking out a mortgage from S. Pickney Holbrook of $2,800.
On Thursday, December 23, 1886 a 47 year old Edwin (a lumber surveyor) married a much younger (24 years old and pregnant) Jane Catherine Roberts, the first marriage for both (Edwin was the only son of Asa and Betsey who married). They were married by Rev. Edward Newman Packard. Jane had been in the U.S. a little over a year – she arrived sometime in 1885. On their wedding day, the temperature was between 30 and 40 degrees and it may have been snowing lightly.
Rev. Packard was installed April 8, 1870 as a minister at Second Church, Dorchester (corner of Washington and Centre streets). The church was Congregational Trinitarian. The church, pictured in 2013, is now a Church of the Nazarene:
Soon the children begin to arrive!
- Five months later in May 1887 – Frances May “Fannie” Lansil, known to the younger generation as“Aunt Fan” was born.
March 11-14, 1888, the “Great Blizzard of 1888” blankets parts of New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut with up to 50 inches of snow!
- On 26 Jun 1888 – Edith Bernice Lansil was born.
Five months later the Lansil’s had a house fire which caused about $500 in damage [about $12,200 in 2014 dollars].
- On 26 May 1890 Florence Paine Lansil arrived.
In 1890, Edwin is a boarder on Maxwell Street and a lumber surveyor at 27 Doane – the address of Walstein R. Chester & Company . Doane Street was the “lumber street” of Boston housing about a dozen lumber wholesale companies who provided the majority of the city’s lumber from this row of old buildings. Edwin was with them for about 11 years from 1888 to 1899.
On 5 June 1890, Edwin’s father Asa Paine Lansil passed away. He died of “old age” (77y, 7m, 19 d), at the Maxwell St. residence. They buried him with his wife Betsey at Mount Hope Cemetery. No probate records were found in Suffolk County. He probably died without assets.
Sadly Edwin and Jane’s 8 month old infant, Florence passed away on 20 February 1891 of convulsions and coma related to, tuberic meningitis. She was buried at Cedar Grove Cemetery, Dorchester, Maple Lot, Section 21, Lot 1483.
While he never seemed to gain as much fame as Walter, articles about Wilbur began to appear in local papers. A small sampling below:
In 1892, Edwin joined the “secret society” of Masons – in East Boston (unclear why since he was living in Dorchester).
Walter & Wilbur joined The Lodge of Eleusis – Freemasonry – It was designed to bring together young college trained men in fraternal compact who had a sincere desire to put behind them the horrors of war and the misgivings incident to human conflict, that they might commune again as brothers, citizens, and good neighbors in an era of peace.
Their records say, “Two other Brethren artists were Wor. Walter Lansill (master 1892, 1893) and Wilbur Lansill. Wilbur died in office as senior warden. Walter lived to a ripe old age and was the sodality insructor who saw to it that young officers became proficient in their work. He was in active service up to a few weeks before his decease. His paintings on modern city life won the acclaim of the critics and some of them sold for large amounts”
In February 1893, the family dog, a collie owned by Asa B., was killed by intentional poisoning. The case does not appear to have been solved. Many more Dorchester dogs died over the next several months from poison.
In 1894, two sons were recorded as born to Edwin and Jane. This is likely an error – the births were 4 months apart. In the 1900 census, Jane reports having given birth to only 5 (not 6) and that 3 survived.
Frederick W Lansil was supposedly born, 29 Mar 1894 however there is no one of this name buried in the family lot.
Edwin Roberts Lansil, died of marasmus (progressive emaciation and general wasting due to enfeebled constitution rather than any specific or ascertainable cause) gastroenteritis, on 8 Aug 1894, age 10 days. Edwin was buried at Cedar Grove cemetery with sister Florence. No birth record was found. Perhaps the birth record was listed as Frederick in error and given a date of 29 Mar 1894 vs. 29 May 1894.
In 1896, Edwin purchased the Maxwell Street home from Walter at the price of $1. He assumed a first mortgage of $2,800 and a second of $400.
Wilbur “Bibber” (who “kept a herd of cattle” to use as art subjects in the stable on Maxwell St.) died on 26 June 1897 of pulmonary phthisis (a progressive wasting away of the body, typically tuberculosis). He was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, Bangor with his parents. He left a will written 30 July 1896.
The Dressers are included in folks who attend the funeral – Mrs. Dresser sent flowers.
Wilbur left the remainder of his estate to his brother Walter. In the event that Walter was not living, everything was to go to his 3 nieces: Florence May Bragg, Frances May Lansil and Edith Bernice Lansil (niece Doris Lansil was born after his death). Walter was named as executor, Henry Howard Dresser was the named alternate if Walter does not survive him. There was no mention of Edwin, Asa B. or his Bragg nephews Edwin & Fredrick, all of whom were living.
The inventory list submitted after his death includes sketches, paintings, a camera, art supplies and a cow’s head!
A month later, Jane was admitted to the Boston Insane Hospital on July 26, 1897. She was discharged 22 February 1898. Her length of stay is unknown. She was likely depressed and suicidal.
In May 1899, Edwin and Walter petitioned the probate court for guardianship of their brother Asa. The petition says that by excessive drinking and idleness he spends, wastes and lessens his estate as to expose himself to want or suffering thereby exposing the city of Boston to paying his support.
Asa became Edwin’s “Ward” until 17 Nov 1902 when Edwin is discharged (or resigned, the paperwork isn’t clear). He charged Asa $25/month board from 1899-1902. Rental properties in the area (according to advertisements in the Boston Globe) in 1899-1902 were in the $6-$25 range. The higher amounts for a full 8-10 room house! It seems that Asa was over paying, but we don’t know the circumstances (i.e. was board inclusive of food?). Asa took very little in the form of cash (a few dollars here and there) but the city directories indicate that he was still working as a clerk during this period. Edward paid fees from the estate for Asa’s newspapers and laundry (glad to see Jane Catherine wasn’t required to do it for him!). It 1899 Edwin reimbursed himself $38.46 in legal fees 1899 and in 1902 took $42.65 for services as guardian.
On 29 Dec 1899, baby Doris Lansil arrived.
In 1900, Edwin, Jane, their three surviving children (Francis 13, Edith 11, & Doris 5 months), niece Florence Bragg and brothers Asa (no occupation listed) & Walter (artist) are living on 101 Maxwell Street, Dorchester. A 60 year old Edwin is listed as a lumber surveyor who has not worked in the past 12 months. He owns the home which is still mortgaged.
By late 1900 Edwin had a job at A.M Stenson & Co., 44 Kilby, as a lumber surveyor.
In 1902, Walter moved to Hotel Pelham (an apartment house) and within the year, Asa B. joined him.
Their move may have been related to Edwin’s diagnosis as “insane” in 1902 (his 1904 death certificate indicates that he was insane for 2 years preceding death). On 17 Nov 1902, Edwin resigned as Asa B.’s guardian. No reason was given.
A year later, Edwin was admitted to the Boston Insane Hospital on 20 Nov 1903.
Application for the Commitment for the Insane:
20 November 1903
White male, age 65, born Bangor, ME, occupation: surveyor, married.
He had no previous attacks; the present attack started one year ago, the attack was gradual and he has not previously been in an asylum. His bodily condition is poor, likely due to an injury related to a fall in 1901. The patient is “cleanly in dress and personal habits”.
He is demented, restless, incoherent and destructive. He had an insane father [wow! so Asa Paine Lansil was also insane at some point!]. His liquor, tobacco and opium habits are “good”.
Nearest relative: Wife, Jane C., 101 Maxwell St., Dorchester
Medical Certificate of Insanity:
20 November 1903
He said: I [unable to read] as got into. He talked very incoherently.
The patient: Ate flour with a knife – kept walking about handling things. He was not properly dressed.
His appearance and manner was: demented, incoherent, destructive.
Other facts: He has been failing mentally for some time. He is very restless, confused and at times violent and destructive [did he hurt his wife and/or children?].
Men were housed on Pierce Farm.
Interior of the infirmary ward in the Department for Men at the Boston Insane Hospital. Patients are seated around the room. Photograph taken a few years prior to Edwin’s arrival in 1900
Soon after Asa’s death and placement of Edwin in the insane asylum, advertisements appeared – “rooms for rent”, perhaps run by Jane Catherine who was then alone in the home with her children and likely needed some form of income.
On 11 July 1904, 65 year old Edwin died. The actual cause of death was erysipelas (a bacterial skin infection).He was buried at Cedar Grove, Dorchester, Maple Lot, Section 21, Lot 1483, Row H. No probate records exist in Suffolk County, indicating that he also died without assets.
The lot was purchased 21 Feb 1891, there is only one marker, engraved with “Florence P. Lansil, age 9 months”, she was buried 22 Feb – this coupled with lack of probate indicates Edwin may not have had much – the family may not have been able to afford a grave marker. According to cemetery records, a 10 day old Edwin R Lansil and 68 year old Jane Catherine Lansil are also buried in the lot.
Sadly, we know nothing of Edwin’s personality, we have tiny glimpses of what his life may have been like. Was he a charmer? How did he come to marry a woman young enough to be his child? I would guess things weren’t easy – close family members were alcoholics, we don’t know if Edwin drank (his asylum admittance papers state that he did not have an alcohol or drug issue), how he treated his wife and children and dealt with the death of his older brother Enoch, two babies and poisoning of the dog. How did the loss of a business and frequent unemployment affected him? The end of his life came while institutionalized. For what reason? We may never know his hardships and what impact he had on our generation.